Article Archive for October 2012
You may wonder if Vivaldi’s overexposed Four Seasons needs a new recording, but Max Richter’s inspired recomposition gives the hoary old favorite a shot in the arm
Once again, I’ve finished a book from my Somerville cluster feeling, paradoxically, both engaged and adrift: it’s as if these novels have their own idiolect, their own set of terms and meanings and tropes that are related to the ones I know from my other reading, or from the general ideas I’ve picked up from [...]
We had another session on The Constant Nymph today, and I think it’s safe to say we are getting more comfortable with it–which is not to say we have worked out our interpretations of it, but that we have a sharpening sense of what is interesting about it, of what critical conversation to have about it. [...]
Six sure-fire books to help you weather the storm!
Time-bending? Gender-bending? Race-bending? “Cloud Atlas” drifts onto Mr. Anderson’s radar.
At the beginning of his career, the great scientist-explorer Tim Flannery literally sailed to the ends of the earth and back – here he sits down to tell some of those stories
This past week was very busy, which is why I didn’t manage to post this during the week. For one thing, one of the committees that I’m on had to do a series of consultations, which involves both the actual meeting times and a fair amount of correspondence and negotiation getting things set up. Another committee [...]
Some Penguin Classics almost seem like they’ve been around forever, and yet a prime such example, the Selected Prose of Charles Lamb, only came into existence in 1985, in a pretty trade paperback with Hazlitt’s famous portrait of the young Lamb on its cover. The edition is edited by Adam Phillips, whose Introduction cites Lamb’s [...]
In the opening volume of the “Toxic City” series, London is cut off from the rest of the world and filling up with super-powered mutants – two things which have been true on YouTube for some time now.
Jacques Barzun (1907 – 2012)
The celebrated South African author of “My Traitor’s Heart” publishes a collection of his rabble-rousing, fortifying New Journalism pieces
New for classical music lovers is an invigorating recording of the symphonies of Danish composer Carl Nielsen, as well as a trio of dazzling piano recitals. As always, Norman Lebrecht reviews.
The great Lev Grossman has a typically smart and interesting piece in last week’s Time (the issue with the hideous cover advertising 60 different stories inside), on a subject of perennial fascination: books translated into movies. I’ve long been on record with the audacious opinion that virtually every movie version ever filmed is better than [...]
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! With some ample assistance from comics legend Howard Chaykin
The burgeoning human population is encountering new and strange pathogens every day – how long until one of them becomes the next HIV … or Black Death?
The best-selling James Patterson novel, featuring his most popular recurring character, gets a big-screen adaptation
The age-old publishing maxim (it’s actually a maxim for everything, but we’ll stay on our home ground), “Stick With What Works,” has few starker applications than the books-in-series that have long afflicted the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Long after whole forests were pulped to make endless “Gor” and “Lensman” books possible (although nothing could make them readable), [...]
I’ve just finished rereading South Riding, ready for our final discussion of the novel in the Somerville seminar tomorrow. I was caught up in it both intellectually and emotionally, more than I was when I first read it last spring. Rereading made the subtleties of the novel’s construction more apparent: the sophisticated way Holtby weaves together [...]
The new book by the great Peter Brown examines a deep conflict: Christ specifically orders Christians to be poor, but Christians would rather not be, thanks just the same.
As we’ve so often noted about the Penny Press, the Lord giveth, and the Lord talketh out His ass. Such was certainly the case with last week’s TLS, in which the ‘debit’ column had an item that nearly made me spit up my Tatws Pum Munud in outrage. The offending piece was by Jonathan Benthall, [...]
The newly-born United States was a disorganized and largely bucolic hodge-podge until three clear-eyed financiers – all of them immigrants – worked to create a new and more monetized system
A film about a young couple dealing with how much they drink, Smashed defies most of the narrative and emotional conventions you might expect when you hear “alcoholism movie.” Smashed was written by Susan Burke and James Ponsoldt, directed by Ponsoldt, and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) and Aaron Paul (Breaking [...]
The great novelist tells the beguiling story of the man he became in order to escape a death sentence
Norman Lebrecht reviews a five-star recording from the extraordinary Finnish soprano Anu Komsi
Director Ben Affleck’s latest, “Argo,” is a real Hollywood movie about a fake Hollywood movie way back in the 1970s
In English 1000, we’ve started our first poetry unit. We’ll be doing more poetry after Christmas, organized into what I hope will be provocative thematic clusters, but for now we’re just working through the basics of reading and analyzing poetry — meter and scansion, figurative language, poetic forms and modes. We haven’t really talked much [...]
Attention abecedarians: absolutely aching to access awesome alphabetic art? Attendez: Alphabet Apocrypha. Formerly titled Alphabet Horror Vacui, Nathan O. Marsh’s illustrated alphabetic cabinet of curiosities is a dark and wonderful marvel. His comic, rendered in crowquill pen and ink and watercolor, harkens back to naturalist engravings of yore, but Marsh’s alliterative inventions bounce back and [...]
Our book today is Kingsley Amis’ 1954 debut novel Lucky Jim, the recent New York Review of Books re-issue of which prompted a literary friend of mine to lament, “Do we really need this? Am I missing something, or is this thing just a boring, overpraised academia-novel that was never that good to begin with?” This [...]
To find their missing cousin, young heroes Daphne and Ivan must return to the magical land of Lexicon and confront yet more of its brain-teasing adventures.
Our book today is 2005′s The Last Time I Saw Venice, by the indomitable Australian romance novelist Vivienne Wallington, a former librarian who wrote some twenty romances for Mills & Boon under the pen-name of Elizabeth Duke and then did a stint writing Silhouette romances for Harlequin under her own name, this one being (so [...]
Marvel’s resident thunder god-superhero Thor goes through some epic adventures in the latest volume of “Essential” reprints.
Our book today is A Wanderer in Venice by our old friend E. V. Lucas, written in the last halcyon interval the world has ever seen and published just as that interval was ending, in November of 1914. Lucas was an indefatigable writer (as shocking as it will seem to our modern ethics, he even [...]
I’ve confessed here before that I can have trouble staying “objective and professorial” during discussions of Gaudy Night because I love the novel so much. I have loved it pretty much since the first time I read it, which is a long time ago: my personal copy is from a 1978 edition, and though I can’t see any [...]
A new book authorized by the Kennedy Library provides some slices of living history: tapes and transcripts of President John F. Kennedy at work in the White House.
Hungarian Miklós Rózsa was one of the century’s greatest composers for film, but he also wrote the fine concertos given new life on this recording
The Dog Stars Peter Heller Knopf, 2012 Everybody’s got that secret genre that does it for them, am I right? Pirate tales, British cozies, sparkly vampires, or some combination of all of the above—hell, that would do it for anyone, come to think of it. Even the most diehard literary snob has some embarrassingly tangible [...]
Marsilio Ficino’s enormous commentary on the Parmenides of Plato receives a fantastic scholarly edition from – who else? – Harvard’s I Tatti Renaissance Library
It’s Canadian Thanksgiving today. We cooked and ate our traditional dinner yesterday, which means today we can relax, catch up on some work, and enjoy leftovers for dinner. Despite a threatening forecast, it’s a bright sunny day so far; yesterday was gorgeous too. The foliage isn’t as bright as it sometimes is at this time [...]
Vultures, black cats, and a gigantic, unbeatable foe: it’s a week in the life of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!
Tim Burton’s new movie has a surprising amount of heart and soul
OK, it’s really fall now. The leaves are spinning around in the chilly breeze, the days are contracting, the stores are filling up with Christmas decorations. And the October issue of Open Letters Monthly is out—the perfect accompaniment to a little mulled cider and that bag of candy corn you bought “to get a jump [...]
Our book today is the oft-revised The World of Venice, originally written by the great British historian and travel-writer James Morris, then revised by him, then substantially re-written when he become Jan Morris, and then revised by her as well – it’s as touched-up as a water-damaged Tiepolo, as fluid and gorgeous a thing as [...]
Homer’s Iliad gets a new and unconventional translation into sometimes very familiar language
While I was sick last weekend I downloaded a few light reads from the library to help cheer me up and pass the time. All of them were romance novels — which (as I emerged from my Neo-Citran haze) struck me as noteworthy and led me to the realization that it has been about a [...]
Our book today is Wild Nights, the winning little work of urban natural history Anne Matthews wrote in 2001, a smart, informed book that follows in the natural history footsteps of such works as Cathy Johnson’s The Nocturnal Naturalist (and act as precursors to great books like Marie Winn’s Central Park in the Dark) by [...]
A sudsy, salty, saucy Mediterranean memoir comes with a light spray of classical allusions …
Pete Dexter’s lean, harrowing novel of murder and ambition is coming to the big screen with a full complement of movie stars – and a new paperback edition of the book is a happy by-product.
In 1868, Robert Browning completed a long poem about an old murder case …
The deeply unlikely pairing of pianist Glenn Gould and soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was deemed a flop when it took place in 1966–now some of the never-before-published recordings have come out, and they’re well worth the wait.
A magnificent three-volume history of warfare in the West.
It has been quiet over here, I know. That’s a symptom, as usual, of things not being quiet elsewhere and so my not having enough time and energy to spare for blogging. For the past couple of weeks it seems we haven’t had two straight days in which at least one member of my family hasn’t [...]
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, featuring a thinly-veiled take on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology
When it comes to digitizing older and orphan works, most of the copyright controversies I see cropping up have more to do with intellectual property issues than actual conflict. Which is about what you’d expect—any real litigation is going to be hammered out in court rather than in the public debate arena. But what happens [...]
Mitt Romney’s diatribe at a Boca Raton fundraiser may have torpedoed his candidacy. Was he just pandering, or did he actually mean all of those things he said?
Can a famously cold and impersonal writer like Paul Auster make a memoir of aging that works against his strengths? And are they strengths after all?
ESP-Disk’, the cult record label from Bernard Stollman, was known for two things: extraordinary, eclectic recordings and horrendous business practices. A new oral history sheds light on the glorious mess.
Sufi mystics, barbaric yawps, and the comedy of the sexes are what’s inside Anthony Madrid’s new collection of ghazals. What does our poetry editor make of this puzzling Persian pattern?
The Walking Dead, the hit TV series adapted from the zombie-apocalypse comics, offers fans a gripping and subversive take on the accidents of survival.
CBC’s landmark scare series is available online at last. Where did such a strange series come from and where has it been all this time?
Emily Pettit turns nonsense into horse sense, or goat sense, in her new collection Goat in the Snow
Madman, lothario, despot, drug fiend, friend and enemy of Mussolini – and immortal poet. Gabriele D’Annunzio was all of these things and many more in his whirlwind of a life.
Their brains – their digits – their eyes – their locomotion – their families – their staggeringly long reign over the planet Earth: it’s all here, and much, much more. The greatest dinosaur reference work just got even better.
Julio Cortázar and Gabriel Garcia Marquez brought Latin American fiction to the attention of the world. Now a young crop of writers are trying to move beyond magical realism–a new anthology charts the diverse approaches.
Henry Adams on the road to Chartres, Phillips Brooks on the Madonna of the prairie, and John La Farge on why he worried Trinity Church had “no heart” — The Gods of Copley Square continues
Election-weary Americans might wonder why anybody in their right minds would elect to play a video-game presidential contest – but the process can be oddly enlightening.
The seventeenth Lee Child is vintage Jack Reacher and the eighth Louise Penny is, as always, compelling and charismatic
Five years ago Sam Sacks surveyed the reviews of Paul Auster’s Travels in the Scriptorium, which caused some confused tail-chasing amongst its critics.
from “Ink” by Katie Caron